Review: Forza Motorsport 4
November 16, 2011, Author: Matt Swindell
My brother-in-law and I differ greatly when it comes to gaming. For example, he can belt through a game in a matter of hours; I can take days if not weeks. He will run through the main campaign of a game and then move on to the next one, and I will sit there for many an hour until I have 100% of everything. He prefers the FPS warfare-based games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, and I (with the odd exception here and there) like sports and driving games.
This brings me to Forza Motorsport 4 on Xbox 360.
The game opens with a stunning cut sequence that shows off some of the cars and the tracks to come, with a Top Gear-esque commentary from Mr Jeremy Clarkson himself. This then leads rather neatly into your first driving experience round the Swiss Alps in a “whet your appetite” trip round one of the courses. A nice touch I felt. Until you then move into the start of the nitty-gritty of the driving challenges, and you go straight from the high performance car you just drove so spiritedly round Switzerland at blistering pace to, in my case, the first of a small series of amateur races in a 1.4 litre Volkswagen Fox. Now, I think you’ll agree that’s a massive step down from the Ferrari you were just racing in.
However, there were several things that made me smile about this.
- I know you have to start at the bottom and work your way up; that’s how all these games work, and I accept that fact. GT5 was no different. I let it go.
- My wife has a VW Fox, and the fact I could race the pistons off it in the game made a pleasant change from the ladies’ shopping car that it is in real life.
- When you start a race, the clock counts you down from 3 to go, and the initial view is from inside the cockpit of the car, from a driver’s perspective. There’s something quite amusing about knowing that view in real life and then getting ready to do to the car in the game what you’d really like to do with it in real life, given half the chance.
There’s a series of races against cars of similar specs after this, that are a small introduction to how you’ll have to drive in order to win the races, and thus collect driver experience points and loyalty points for the different car manufacturers. Each increase in driving level earns you the choice of additional cars, as well as XP that you can then put towards buying more exotic cars of your own from quite a varied list of available vehicles.
The loyalty points are worth collecting also, as the more you race a certain brand of car the higher the discount off upgrades you get from the upgrade section of the game. There’s nothing like a pimped up racing-spec VW Fox, let me tell you. You can upgrade automatically if you just want to dive right into the game, or you can work your way through every aspect of the car; wheels, tyres, camshafts, shocks, brakes, paint, and decals can all be adjusted. You can even tint your windows if you so desire.
So you compete in the various standards of races, trying to come first in all the heats in order to collect more points and thus get bigger and better cars. After a while you do rack up quite a few models and makes in your garage. What is noticeable, much in the same way it is in GT5, is how every car feels so different to drive. Not just the fact that the 0-60 times from a Fox to a Bugatti Veyron are clearly going to differ massively; that’s a given. It’s more than that. They do really feel different to drive. The responses are different from car to car, as are the cornering and the acceleration. It really is quite incredible. I felt that way about GT5, but I think Forza 4 may be even better.
The various racing tracks are located all over the world, and the cars racing against you (well, the front runners anyway) are always that little bit more powerful than you are. All the famous ones are there, such as the Nurburgring, Indianapolis and Silverstone, but I have to say there’s something a little special about racing round the Top Gear test track. For the average Joe who sits there every week watching some celebrity we’ve quite often never heard of trying to get round the track in the reasonably priced car as fast as they can, yelling ‘I could do better than that!’, then this is your starter for ten.
Admittedly, you don’t initially get to just tear round it like they do on the show, as for starters the race is basically a game of ten pin bowling in cars. There’s a series of pins around the test track and you have to hit a certain score and complete the lap in under a certain time in order to complete the level successfully. It’s an entertaining mode that mixes it up a bit amongst the ‘finish first out of 12’, ‘drive in and out of the cones under a certain time’ and ‘beat an opponent down the hill in the fastest time’ kind of challenges.
The more you drive and the more points you earn the better the cars get; as do your opponents in the races.
This is where you really start to notice something that I found very similar to the GT5 experience. When you start out in your campaign to be Colin McRae, it does seem much harder to get through the stragglers of a field in the first few levels, and much easier as you get into the faster performance cars. My plucky little Fox was fighting to get ahead initially and my technical driving (and in some cases sheer bloody minded-ness that included being prepared to smash other cards off the track in order to win) was tested. However, this I felt drops off as the horse power increases.
This is where I feel that GT5 and Forza 4 differ greatly. Once you’re out in front on GT5, I always found as long as you stayed on the track that you were through the rest of the race without too much of a problem. Not so with Forza 4. Getting to the front was harder in the less powerful cars and easier with the Lamorghini’s and Zonda’s of this world, but then there was a real fight to stay in the lead once you were there.
Your opponents are often that small step ahead of you in the horse power stakes, and they can catch you up. They come screaming up behind you in your rear view mirror, and the game becomes a blocking exercise to take the sting out of their top speeds and stop them passing you. This is testing, as they often do this in pairs. You have to choose which car was easier to pass initially, block the other and then hope you can take the slightly slower car in the next bend, and before the line looms into the horizon. I liked this fact, a lot.
What makes this driving game a more serious competitor to the title from GT5, is the fact that it is an ‘aged 3 and up game that younger children can actually play. I know that GT5 was ‘aged 3’, but to me it always felt like a grown up’s game. It’s too technical for younger children. I wasn’t the only one who seemed to think that, either. My son has never really wanted to actually play it. He was happy to watch me race, but when offered the paddle, he just shrugged it off and said ‘you do it Dad’. This is not the case with Forza 4.
To be honest, I’m not that into the Kinect play-ability of the game. It’s not that it doesn’t work, because it does; very well indeed. I just prefer to have the pad in my hand and to feel the rumble as you cut across the apex of a turn. It’s a personal thing I suppose. My boy, however, is a huge fan of the Kinect interactivity. It seems to me that when playing games these days the younger children prefer to have nothing in their hands, and just play through a series of gestures and movements. This may explain how much fitter he is at aged 7 than I ever was.
He is more than happy to drive round in his beloved Bugatti (like Father like son I suppose), turning frantically and just getting immersed in the whole experience. It’s a pleasure to sit and watch him play, as he looks so engaged and is clearly having fun. He doesn’t care about the pad, or customizing the car, or what sort of shock absorbers it has fitted. He just wants to tear round at high-warp in a car that looks like a Batmobile. Forza 4 delivers that, in spades.
Elegance on wheels
There are some lovely touches in this game. The scenery is breathtaking. The garages are both well stocked with a huge range of cards of all descriptions; I have to say that the muscle cars that I have always had a soft spot for are brilliant fun in themselves. Forza 4 is a gem for the eyes. It truly is a beautiful game.
In the interest of balance, however, it’s not perfect by any means. The game does suffer from one of the same things that annoyed me about GT5; the lag between races. I know it’s a large game and there’s a price you have to pay for graphic quality of this nature, but does it really need to take so long to get from race to race? If you are taking the time to fiddle with cars, go shopping, upgrading, etc, you expect a certain amount of time from race to race to go by, but not if you want to belt through it and race your heart out. It’s not enough to spoil the game; don’t get me wrong. I just feel that in games such as the Uncharted series, the cut sequence to gameplay passages are all integrated and seamless; why can’t they do that with the racing games as well?
Start your engines
As I mentioned previously, Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear does some narration work for the game, which instantly made me feel right at home. It’s a lovely addition to the game that actually gives Forza 4 a real air of authenticity.
Listening to the engines of so many wonderful cars whirring as they rip around the track is as satisfying as seeing their visual counterpart. Every car sounds as you’d expect it to, from Bugattis to Lamborghinis. Forza 4 is painstakingly created to be as realistic as it genuinely can. How long it must have taken the developers to get the noises of the engines down so accurately within the game requires a level of dedication I cannot even begin to perceive.
Forza 4 truly is a masterclass in design.
Racing Joe Bloggs
Ray and I had a conversation recently about online gaming in general, and it seemed that we share the opinion that gaming of late has become a lot less about the campaigns of the game, and more about the online aspects. I’m not really an online kind of guy. I want to be challenged by the game, not Joe Bloggs aged 8 in California. If I’ve gone through the trouble to buy a game disk, that’s where I expect the game to be; not in the Cloud.
I hadn’t got on with the online play in GT5, and a larger reason for this was the lag in the gameplay that I experienced. One little glitch in the stream, and you were in a wall and facing backwards.
Thankfully, the Forza online experience was much better that GT5. There was no real lag in the stream or degradation of graphics. All the basics of the online racing were there; choose a style of race from the various options (straight circuit race, timed, cat and mouse, etc), then choose a class of car and the system adds you to a list of waiting gamers with similar choices, and you race.
However, what happens in online racing in general is that little Joe Bloggs aged 8 from California and all his other online buddies have chosen the fastest cars with the most advanced set ups available to them, and it becomes a ‘who can barge everyone else off the track in the first corner and then can’t be caught thereafter’ exercise. It didn’t seem to matter which class of car I tried as this seemed to be the form throughout. If I didn’t get into contention by the first corner, there was no chance. Otherwise, it was an easy win.
The other issue is the amount of time it can take waiting for the other competitors to choose cars, set ups, etc.. There’s a count-down clock to spur you on a bit, but you could probably complete one or two in-game races in the time you’re sat there waiting (or go and get more tea and chocolate biscuits).
Essentially, Forza 4 is no different to GT5. They both deliver a great driving experience and are a lot of fun. Where I feel they differ is Forza gives you the same ‘techy’ experience that GT5 does, albeit to a slightly lesser degree so it does not lose the engineering-inept, such as myself. The graphics in Forza 4 are better for my liking, and the overall gameplay slightly more immersive. The added bonus the Kinect capability brings for the younger players cannot be ignored either.